After the long awaited return of parkrun in England last weekend, I’m sharing my post-pandemic parkrun experience along with a few tips for anyone who’s thinking about joining in the free weekly 5k fun soon.
Ever since I first started getting back into running after having my son, returning to parkrun as a buggy running mum was one of the top items on my running to do list. The last time I had run one I struggled to drag myself around the course, feeling too hot, too tired and a little bit sick, unaware that I was about six weeks pregnant at the time. Once I confirmed my pregnancy and finally had a reason for my lack of running motivation, I skipped parkrun for the next few weeks, waiting to ask my midwife more about safe ways to exercise in pregnancy. By the time that appointment came around I was feeling much more optimistic about building my running back up, but everything she said to me during our discussion put me off any sort of high impact exercise for the rest of those nine months.
Whether she realised the effect her words had on me or not I don’t know - if only I had been as educated about running and other exercise in pregnancy as I am now back then. Knowing what I know now I wish I had taken my little bump that would become Max to more parkruns when I had the chance!
I was eight months pregnant when the UK first went into lockdown and so much, including parkrun, was put on pause. We all thought that normal life would resume within a month or two, and I was looking forward to walking the course with Max in the baby carrier, before building up to running it with him in the buggy. But the months went by and the restrictions remained. I wouldn’t be able to share my love of parkrun with my little copilot just yet.
Even before I properly started my postpartum return to running, I still kept checking for possible parkrun return dates, optimistic as it is an outdoor event. By the time June came around and I was running confidently again, I was so excited for its promised return, only to be disappointed again by a further four week delay instigated by the government. But finally the 24th July was confirmed - parkrun was coming back!
I understand that even after waiting over 70 weeks for parkrun events to be taking place at 9am on a Saturday morning up and down the country again, some keen parkrunners are still hesitant to voluntarily add to a large crowd of unmasked people, just to run a 5k. I understand that so many of us are now so much more used to running alone and sharing our journeys with a virtual community. I understand that there is still a threatening virus in our midst, even though, thankfully, so many people have now been vaccinated. But I can only commend the run directors and the volunteers at parkrun for the brilliant handling of this next step towards normality.
Yes, there were a lot of people all sharing the same course, the same start line and the same finish funnel all at the same time. But there was a mutual understanding and respect of other people’s space emanating from the crowd. There was plenty of space for everyone. The course I chose was quite a narrow one, involving out and back sections, but long before the end of the first mile, the crowd had naturally spread, everyone running their own pace, and there was even space for me and the buggy to overtake other runners (including other buggy runners) without causing any chaos!
During the race briefing, there were extra little reminders about how to best keep each other safe, such as holding out a flat palm for your finish token to avoid the volunteers having to touch hundreds of runners’ hands, and moving away from the finish line quickly once you’d had your barcode scanned. Despite these slight adaptations, I can honestly say that it was as if it had never been away. I really loved experiencing not only a real parkrun, not only a new course, but also my first ever buggy running parkrun. The return of parkrun was made even better by watching a mesmerised Max clapping along with the volunteers and waving at other runners as we passed by.
If you are still nervous about returning or are tempted to try out your first parkrun, here are a few tips that might make you feel more confident about switching from the virtual to the real life version:
Don’t focus too much on attempting a PB on your first attempt
To avoid the most crowded areas, hang back at the start line
Arrive in plenty of time so you aren’t stressed about getting to the start, and so you can hear anything important mentioned in the pre-race briefing
Be aware of and allow people to overtake you and give others extra space if you are overtaking them
Keep your distance in the finish funnel and in the queue for barcode scanning
Thank the amazing volunteers at every opportunity
Don’t forget it’s supposed to be fun! If you aren’t quite ready to mix with crowds then it’s fine to wait a few more weeks and see how you feel
To read more of my previous blog posts about parkrun, click here. Or if you want to know more about my postpartum running journey, click here. Don’t forget to subscribe to be the first to know about any news and updates, just enter your email address at the bottom of the page. Thanks and happy parkrunning!